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Watson so proud after title breakthrough

Monday, 15 October 2012 - 8:39am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Briton saves four match points to become country's first WTA tour winner since Sara Gomer 24 years ago.

Until recently, tennis was responsible for some of the longest droughts in British sport. But 2012 has been the year when the heavens opened. First Andy Murray ended the 76-year grand-slam winning reign of Fred Perry by winning the US Open, and on Sunday Heather Watson became the first British woman to claim a WTA title since Sara Gomer in 1988.

Watson achieved her breakthrough when she beat Chang Kai-Chen, of Taiwan, 7-5, 5-7, 7-6 in the HP Open final in Osaka, Japan. It could not have been a closer call, but where Murray fell just short in his own epic final against Novak Djokovic yesterday, Watson was able to save four match points before finally clinching victory.

"I was in the changing room afterwards, changing my clothes, and I thought to myself: 'Did I really win?'?" Watson said. "So it's just starting to settle in. I've worked so hard for this moment my whole career - that's why I practised so hard, ran all those miles and lifted all those weights, for moments like this.

"Britain has been breaking quite a few records recently, so I'm happy I could break another one today. I'm proud to do this for my country."

Just an hour after snatching victory with a backhand service return, Watson had to go back out on court to play the final of the doubles tournament, but she admitted that "my legs gave out and my reactions were quite slow" as she and her Japanese partner Kimiko Date-Krumm were beaten 6-1, 6-4.

Still, singles tennis is very much Watson's focus, and yesterday's victory will carry her up 21 places to No?50 in the world when the new rankings are announced today. Neither she nor her friend and rival Laura Robson will play again this year, but they will both finish the season in career-high positions, with Robson standing at No?52 after reaching the semi-finals in Osaka.

At 20, Watson has a fraction more experience than 18-year-old Robson, but both women appear to be finding inspiration in shared success. Before the start of this tournament, they released a video in which they performed a Gangnam-Style dance with guest appearances from other major players like Maria Sharapova and Sam Stosur. The video has now racked up more than 250,000 views on YouTube.

Three weeks ago, Robson had her own opportunity to pick up a WTA title in Guangzhou, China, but fell narrowly short when she lost to Taiwan's Hsieh Su-Wei. "Laura and I have come through the rankings together - juniors and seniors - and we're both very competitive," Watson said. "So when we see the other doing well, it pushes us. Knowing Laura did so well in China a few weeks ago definitely motivated me this week. But I think it's great we're really good friends off the court as well."

The styles of the two women could hardly be more different. Robson is blessed with a cannon of a left-handed serve and heavy groundstrokes, while Watson is a more compact player with excellent footwork and high levels of consistency. Still, they are both working to fill in the gaps in their own game, as well as to develop the sort of mental resilience that marks out a potential grand slam champion. Watson certainly showed plenty of fight yesterday when Chang stood on the verge of victory in the deciding set.

"She was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-0," Watson said. "I just thought 'Oh no, I had this, I was so close', but I took it point-by-point, I don't know how I did it but I did. I was already thinking about how I was going to cry in the locker room. But what I've learned from my coaches is to go for it and not hope they miss - as you get better and play the top girls, you've got to go for it because they won't give it to you."

Watson's win was acclaimed by several of the other British women who have reached this level of the game, including Gomer - or Sara Palumbo as she is now - who became the last British title-holder on the WTA tour when she won in Aptos, California.

"The hard thing in tennis is to have that belief," Gomer said. "At five-all do you believe that you can beat the other person? That's the key. Watson and Robson do have that, and that's why I think they will keep rising. I can see them both kicking on and getting into the top 20."

Gomer's verdict was echoed by her contemporary Jo Durie, who won two WTA titles as well as reaching two grand slam semi-finals, and is now a commentator on Eurosport. "To win in that manner, coming back from match points down to take it 7-6 in the third, sums Heather up for me," Durie said. "I think it's absolutely brilliant. She will take so much encouragement from this. It's always very special to win your first title, but the way she held her nerve will make it even sweeter."
 




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